Four facets of sustainability ... of the economy

The pandemic has and will continue to create fundamental shifts in how we behave as a society. Some of those changes have been good for the environment, but very difficult for people and their economic stability. It’s sad, because so many people have lost jobs.

For example, I don't think the airline industry will recover to the same levels. In a way I hope it doesn't. Because if it does, then that shows that we've gone back to the way it was. We can’t ignore the impact on people's lives and livelihoods. But the reality is that the whole economy has to shift to a greener model for the future. If a business is damaging the world and is bad for the environment, you can't sustain it just because it employs people.

So it will be a painful process to shift to a more environmentally friendly economy. But that's essentially what we need. Therefore, probably hundreds of thousands of people across the world will have to rethink their careers. 

We have to find new jobs for those people and develop new industries. This is why I like the focus of theIt's not just about cutting emissions. It's also about having long-term sustainable societies that bring economic prosperity and equality and all of the other elements that we need. It’s good that we've cut our emissions suddenly with this crisis, but we've also broken the economy. So we've got to find a way of sustainably reducing our impact on the planet and still having a vibrant economy that brings jobs and prosperity and wealth to all.

Money flows to the right opportunities. Every car manufacturer on the planet now has a strategy to get away from internal combustion engines and go fully electric. It will take them time, but the thing that's forced them to do that is their market capitalization has eroded over the last few years. I think you will see that in other industries as well. So the airline industry might suffer, but if you put in high-speed rail and really invest in it through all the countries of the world, that can be a viable alternative to flying all over the place. 

A team in our group focuses on having meetings where people go by the train, and they use time on the train for meetings, as well. You have Wi-Fi connection, you can sit together, you can move around and it's more flexible than the plane. So you can build travel time into your agenda or parts of your meeting. The Roche travel department even arranged that you can allocate a whole train carriage to Roche, so you can have confidential meetings – knowing no one else in the carriage will overhear your conversation.

If you think creatively enough, you can really do things differently. And if people start to do things differently, capitalism is a mechanism that would reallocate resources to the right investments in the future. The stock price of oil companies and internal combustion engine automotive companies is very much on the floor right now. But if you have a viable prospect for green energy or electric transport, you're getting a lot of investment. It kind of reassures me that capitalism will still help solve this problem, but it requires us as consumers to vote with our feet. You have to decide that you don't buy “those things” anymore, and you buy “these things” instead.

Read Steve's other blogs on Four Facets of Sustainability, including ofin and inLearn how Roche colleagues are making our company and communities

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